By Michele Markarian
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Music by Alan Mencken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, Book by Linda Woolverton. Directed by Jane Staab. Choreography by Laurel Conrad;
Musical Direction by Steven Bergman. Presented by Wheelock Family Theatre, 200 The Riverway, Boston, MA, through March 4.
Belle (the appealing Justine “Icy” Moral) is the daughter of an eccentric inventor, Maurice (Robert Saoud). Both father and daughter are considered weird in their provincial town, he for his odd creations and she for her love of books. The one thing Belle gets kudos for is her great beauty, so much so that the handsomest man in town, Gaston (Mark Linehan) is hell-bent on marrying her (Gaston is so handsome that I considered pulling Belle aside and saying, “Look, kid, you can always get divorced”). Belle, a deep girl, recognizes that although Gaston is gorgeous, he is not a nice man underneath, and refuses his proposal.
Maurice, meanwhile, is lost in the woods, and stumbles upon a castle populated by odd creatures – half human, half object. The castle is ruled by an ugly, mean Beast (Jared Troilo), who is actually a Prince that a beautiful Enchantress (Pier Lamia “Mia” Porter) has put a spell on, due to his callow behavior. Until he learns to be loving and is loved in return, he will remain a Beast. There is, however, a deadline – when a beautiful rose in a glass case on display in the castle loses all of its petals, then game over. The Beast will remain a Beast and the half-humans in his household will turn permanently into objects. The Beast holds Maurice in a basement prison. When Belle decides to trade places with her father and remain captive in the Beast’s castle, there is tremendous pressure for them, against all odds, to fall in love.
Director Jane Staab has assembled a flawless cast. Moral, as Belle, has tremendous stage presence. She and the always excellent Robert Saoud have a lovely chemistry; their father-daughter duet, “No Matter What”, is touching. The dulcet-toned Mark Linehan gives a layered performance as the odious Gaston, whose behavior gets worse and worse as the show progresses (if only an Enchantress had put the spell on him, he might have been saved. Life is so random). Linehan and the toadying Lefou (well played by Gary Thomas Ng) also share a nice chemistry, vocally and physically. Jared Troilo is touching and in moments, appropriately comical as the Beast. The half-human objects that populate the household are very appealing, principally Cogsworth (a droll Chip Phillips) and Lumiere (the adorable Brad Foster Reinking).
This is a beautiful production, starting with James P. Byrne’s attractive and versatile set, complete with stained glass windows in the imposing castle and a panel that periodically opens up to reveal the encased rose. The special effects are breathtaking, particularly when the Beast transforms into a handsome Prince. Laurel Conrad’s choreography is terrific, most notably in the sumptuous “Be Our Guest”. Melissa Miller’s costumes are impressive and very clever (the audience actually gasped when Belle arrives for dinner in an elegant gown). And Staab keeps the action moving quickly, not always easy for a show that runs two and a half hours. The kids in the audience, other than the periodic bathroom break, seemed pretty engaged and thanks to the movie, were familiar with the music.
The show has some nice messages for kids. Beauty is on the inside. Don’t follow the crowd – be yourself. Take care of your parents. Good messages for grown-ups, too. At times, the plot reminded me of Jane Campion’s “The Piano”, (a leap, I know) where appropriate husband Sam Neill is usurped by understanding Maori Harvey Keitel. For parents out there, if you want your kids to be exposed to theater, and enchanted by it, this is the show. And you will love it, too. For tickets and info, go to: https://wheelockfamilytheatre.org/